Evening all – I’m writing this from the glamorous location of a Virgin train, somewhere between Carlisle and Oxenholme. I’ve been at Borderlines – the Carlilse Book festival since yesterday afternoon and have had an amazing weekend.
When I got to Carlisle train station I was worried about getting home at all, as apparently there were horses running amok on the line but we were just a few minutes late setting off, so I’m hoping I’ll still make my connection at Lancaster. I’m facing the wrong way so I can see the landscape rushing away from the train. On the left the sky is a pale blue but the landscape on both sides is a dark black. It is that time of evening that I often find myself trying to write about – dusk, when the air is grey and there is this beautiful quality to the light. On the right, the far horizon is a mix of purples and pinks – it really is beautiful. Also, someone has just walked past with a cat in a cat box which miaowed at me loudly.
Yesterday I took what I think of as the ‘slow’ train up to Carlisle. It is only maybe half an hour or forty minutes slower, but instead of changing at Lancaster, this train goes up the west coast of Cumbria. It was a beautiful day then as well. I was in a relatively good mood – I’d got up early, got myself to Barrow Park run and ran a reasonably good time – four seconds off my PB which is annoying but still under 23 minutes which I’m really pleased with.
The landscape we went through was beautiful – past Roanhead Beach, which is my new favourite place to run, and then along miles and miles of coastline. I obviously like living in Cumbria – I’ve been here 13 years now, but I suddenly realised that I love it here – I love the landscape, the people, the life that I have here. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that I realised that I was happy, and it felt strange to know this, to articulate it. I feel strange writing it, almost as if it is something to be ashamed of, or something I should qualify. But I do, and I am. I feel very happy tonight.
This has a lot to do with the fact that this has been one of the good times, one of the good weekends to be a writer. I arrived at the Crown and Mitre hotel in Carlisle and checked in. The festival had sorted out a really lovely room and my evening meal was paid for. I got an Authors Pass so I could go to any events I wanted to over the weekend. Today I ran a workshop with incredibly talented writers. This afternoon I read with Jacob Polley, one of my favourite poets and the audience were lovely. A good few years ago – maybe five or six, I was Commended, alongside Jacob Polley, in the Mirehouse Poetry Competition. I was so uncomfortable at the prize giving ceremony, feeling like I wasn’t a proper writer and I didn’t deserve to be there, that even though I sat next to Jacob, I didn’t dare to speak to him and I scuttled off home as soon as I possibly could – and now I’m reading with him. I don’t pinch myself to make sure it’s real, because that is a cliché, and does anyone ever really do that? But I still get that feeling of slight disbelief that I’m getting to do these amazing things.
Last night I went to perhaps one of the most inspiring talks I’ve been to – Terry Waite, who was taken hostage in the 80’s. He is an amazing man, and I sat up till 2.30am reading his book last night. I couldn’t stop tears in my eyes while he spoke – I thought it was just me being sentimental – I do cry at anything, and when he talked about knowing the whole time that they could break his body, and bend his mind, but his soul was in another’s hands, that was me gone. But there were lots of people who were wiping tears away by the end.
This week in general has been a bit mixed. On Thursday and Friday I had two Inset teacher training days. I can’t say a lot without being unprofessional, but it is not my favourite way to spend my time. On Tuesday I had a meeting about a project that I’ll be working on in Dent Primary School in association with The Wordsworth Trust and Tullie House this term. It sounds like it’s going to be a really exciting project. I work with the school for a total of four days which seems like a real luxury to have that length of time working with the same children.
After that meeting I went for another meeting with Pauline Yarwood about a project we are trying to put together. It is progressing nicely, but I don’t want to go public yet with it until we’ve made a bit more progress, but watch this space!
Apart from that I’ve spent the rest of the time last week running. I’m feeling better again after the terrible cold last week and although my throat still doesn’t feel quite right, I feel a lot better. Tomorrow I have to somehow motivate myself to do my long run for the week – I’ve signed up for the Lancaster Half Marathon which is the first weekend of November. I did it last year in a time of 1 hour and 52 minutes so I’d like to knock some minutes off that if possible.
The Sunday Poem this week is by Nichola Deane, who I read with last week in Clitheroe, along with David Borrott and Wayne Price, last week’s Sunday Poem. I remember reading Nichola’s poem ‘Yesterday’s Child’ in an issue of The Rialto and making a note to myself to look out for her work, so I was pleased to hear she’d been selected as one of the ‘Laureate’s Choice’ poets. This poem went on to be Highly Commended in the 2014 Forward Prize.
Nichola was born in Bolton in 1973. Her first pamphlet, My Moriarty, won the 2012 Flarestack Poetry Pamphlet Prize and was later selected as the Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice. As well as The Rialto, her work has appeared in magazines such as Poetry London, Magma, Archipelago, Oxford Poetry, the Moth and The SHop. Her Laureate’s Choice pamphlet is called ‘Trieste’ and is available to buy here
The poem I’ve chosen ‘What Can a Flame Remember?’ is a strange little poem. Nichola tells me that the title is from a poem by the Greek poet George Seferis called ‘Mr Stratis Thalassinos Describes a Man’. I couldn’t find the poem online, but am looking forward to re-reading my Penguin anthology of three greek poets to see if it is in there.
I call it a strange little poem because it has that other-worldliness to it. I love how the first line seems like a statement of absolute fact, though of course it can’t be. The poet can’t know what a flame remembers, if it remembers at all, but reading the poem I’m completely taken up by the inner life of the fire, of what it remembers and what it doesn’t.
This is a poem that seems to reach back in time to when we would all have been sitting around the fire, staring into the flames. This is most evident in Stanza 3. One of my favourite lines is ‘the jolt of its beginning’. It is full of energy, and it made me think, yes, I know exactly what you mean – that illustrates perfectly the way that things catch fire. I also admire the deftness of the way she has handled the language – look at stanza 5 with it’s repetition of arc and ark. It takes a confident writer to take these risks. Lastly of course, as many of you already know, I’m a sucker for a soul in a poem. One mention of it and I go gooy eyed. I’ve just (this minute) started to pick up all the biblical references in this poem – the ‘gospel of dark’. The use of ‘the story’ instead of ‘a story’ makes me think of the Bible. The use of the word ark and then finally, the soul free-falling at the end. The flame remembers only one new thing. The end of the poem makes me think of souls falling into hell – although when i first started writing this post, I thought the ending was wonderfully optimistic with its image of the soul falling. Now I think the poem is saying that the flame will not remember the souls as they fall towards hell. Which is obviously a little sad!
I’ going to sign off now, because I keep falling asleep while typing. For example, I’ve tried to write this sentence three times now and each time I drift off and don’t get to the end!
Anyway, I hope you enjoy Nichola’s poem, and thanks Nichola for letting me use the poem on the blog.
What Can a Flame Remember – Nichola Deane
A flame remembers one near thing:
the heat rounding
on the spark,
the jolt of its beginning.
Not the world, nor the story,
nor the gospel of dark.
Nothing beyond the pale
of its own burning –
just the arc –
the ark of fire,
the soul in fall.